10 Dairy Facts the Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know

dairy facts, veal calves

Male dairy calves killed for veal are confined to lonely stalls and slaughtered at just a few months of age.

Consider the following 10 dairy facts, most of which are common to all forms of dairy farming:

1. 21,000,000 dairy calves are slaughtered for veal or cheap beef every year globally. (1)

2. Like all mammals, cows must give birth in order to make milk. Like human mothers, they carry their babies for nine months, then begin to lactate for the sole purpose of nourishing their young.

3. Due to extensive genetic manipulation, today’s dairy cows produce up to 12 times more milk than they would naturally produce to feed a calf. (2)

dairy facts

Photo: Twyla Francois

4. Even so, virtually all dairy calves are stolen from their mothers within hours of birth in order to maximize profit. 97% of newborn dairy calves are forcibly removed from their mothers within the first 12 hours. (3) The rest are removed in a matter of days. On so-called humane dairy farms, cows are often taken within the first hour of birth as separation of mother and calf is considered less stressful when they have not been allowed to bond (see video clip below).

5. To keep them lactating at maximum yields, cows are artificially and forcibly inseminated year after year. The constant cycle of forced pregnancy and birth creates a huge surplus of calves.

artificial insemination, dairy facts

Dairy cows are forcibly impregnated once a year to keep them at peak lactation. Artificial insemination involves invasive, nonconsensual rectal and vaginal penetration. Photo: organicfarmer.org

6. Some female calves will join the milking herd. They typically spend the first 2 to 3 months of life confined in lonely hutches, fed a diet of milk replacer while humans drink the milk intended for them. (4)

veal_calf, dairy facts

Calves on this small and so-called humane dairy farm are taken away from their mothers within the first hour of birth. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur

7. Male calves and surplus females are sold to be slaughtered for veal or cheap beef. The veal industry would not exist without the dairy industry.

8. Over 90% of U.S. dairy cows are confined in primarily indoor operations, with more than 60% tethered by the neck inside barren stalls, unable to perform the most basic behaviors essential to their wellbeing. (5)

tie stalls, dairy facts

9. Trapped in a cycle of forced impregnation, perpetual lactation and near constant confinement, dairy cows’ overworked bodies begin producing less milk at 4 to 5 years of age, at which point they are slaughtered. (6) In natural conditions, cows can live 20 to 25 years. (7)

10. Of the 9 million dairy cows in the U.S., 3 million are slaughtered each year at only a fraction of their natural lifespan. (8) Their worn out bodies become ground beef and restaurant hamburgers. (9)

Cows are highly sensitive, affectionate and gentle, forming deep friendships and family bonds. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

Cows are highly sensitive, affectionate and gentle, forming deep friendships and family bonds. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

What You Can Do

Don’t buy the humane myth. Feel-good dairy labels, like all humane labels, are merely so much window dressing. Eliminating dairy from your diet doesn’t have to be difficult; in fact, it can be downright delicious. Check out our Guide to Going Dairy Free for tips and recommendations on remarkable plant-based milks, cheeses, creams, yogurts and more. And please remember: all dairy farming depends on the exploitation and destruction of motherhood. To learn more about the injustices perpetrated even on small and so-called humane dairy farms, see our feature: The Spiked Nose Ring: A Symbol for All Dairy Cruelty. Educate others by sharing information about dairy production with them.


(1) “Calf Slaughter by Country in 1,000 Head,” Index Mundi: Animal Numbers. Accessed 7/21/2014 from: http://www.indexmundi.com/agriculture/?commodity=cattle&graph=calf-slaughter

(2) Lyons DT, Freeman AE and Kuck AL. 1991. Genetics of health traits in Holstein cattle. Journal of Dairy Science 74 (3): 1092-100

(3) “Colostrum Feeding and Management on U.S. Dairy Operations, 1991-2007,” USDA, Feb. 2009. Accessed 7/21/2014 from: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/nahms/dairy/downloads/dairy07/Dairy07_is_ReprodPrac.pdf

(4) “Ag 101: Dairy Lifecycle Production Phases,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed 7/21/2014 from: http://www.epa.gov/oecaagct/ag101/dairyphases.html

(5) “The Welfare of Cows in the Dairy Industry,” Humane Society of the United States. Accessed 7/21/2014 from: http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/hsus-the-welfare-of-cows-in-the-dairy-industry.pdf

(6) Albert DeVries, “Cow longevity economics – the cost benefit of keeping the cow in the herd,” delaval.com. Accessed 7/21/2014 from: http://www.delaval.com/en/-/Dairy-knowledge-and-advice/Cow-Longevity/Scientists-view-on-cow-longevity/Cow-longevity-economics—the-cost-benefit-of-keeping-the-cow-in-the-herd/

(7) Nowak RM. 1997. Walker’s Mammals of the World 5.1. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.

(8) “Livestock Slaughter 2013 Summary,” USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2014. Accessed 7/21/2014 from: http://www.usda.gov/nass/PUBS/TODAYRPT/lsan0414.pdf

(9) “A Value Chain Analysis of the U.S. Beef and Dairy Industries,” Duke University Center on Globalization, Governance and Competitiveness, Feb. 2009. Accessed 7/21/2014 from: http://www.cggc.duke.edu/environment/valuechainanalysis/CGGC_BeefDairyReport_2-16-09.pdf

About Ashley Capps

Ashley Capps received an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her first book of poems is Mistaking the Sea for Green Fields. The recipient of a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, she works as a writer, editor and researcher specializing in farmed animal welfare and vegan advocacy. Ashley has written for numerous animal rights organizations, and in addition to her ongoing work for Free from Harm, she is a writer and researcher at A Well-Fed World. For more information on her poetry or advocacy writing, please visit her website. She also runs the vegan facebook page Make Compassion Consistent.